Help! I Feel Like My Therapist Judges Me

I've been in therapy for about a month to help me deal with obsessive thoughts and behaviors. My therapist has given me some resources and some very helpful ideas for changing these patterns, but at the same time, I feel like he judges me constantly. For example, when I told him something kind of embarrassing and personal, he winced, pursed his lips, and let out what felt to me like a judgmental sigh and a prolonged "Hmmmmmm." This wasn't the only time. He seems to be really good at his job and knows how to deal with issues like mine, but it's hard for me to get past the subtle mannerisms, sounds, and comments that make me feel scrutinized and, well, stupid. It makes me not want to tell him things that are bothering me, and I thought the whole point of therapy was to be able to feel safe talking about the things that are bothering you. I am torn as to whether to try a different therapist (and start over ... ugh!), leave therapy altogether, or stick it out and hope it gets better. Any advice for me? —Judged Judy
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Dear Judged Judy,

Thank you for your letter and for reaching out for support in this difficult situation.

You are right; therapy is supposed to be a safe place where you can share your thoughts, experiences, and feelings without feeling judged, criticized, or condemned by your therapist. Keeping a nonjudgmental environment is one of the most critical things a therapist can do. Carl Rogers encouraged therapists to approach people with what he called unconditional positive regard, which is essentially the attitude of “no matter what you share, I still regard you highly.” That is truly a healing condition.

There are many sides to this to be considered. The first is whether the therapist is actually judging you or whether you are misreading his expressions. While I’m certainly not trying to put the blame on you, it is important to consider that there may be something as simple as a miscommunication going on.

One of the critical aspects of the therapeutic relationship is openness. It is vital for both parties—therapist and person in therapy—to be able to communicate their feelings and experience to the other. In doing so, you deepen the relationship and trust builds, which helps you feel safer.

Starting over with another therapist is always an option, but I recommend that as a last step instead of a first. Try starting by talking to your therapist and giving it some time to see how things change (or don’t change).

With that said, I encourage you to share your concerns with your therapist. It could be that he is unaware of his expressions and how they come across. Your sharing your experience with him can help him become more aware and give him an opportunity to change his behavior. It could also be that he does have some judgments and concerns about what you are sharing that he may be able to express to you. In that case, the two of you can have an ongoing dialogue and perhaps resolve the issue in your therapy.

Based solely on what you have written, there is also a possibility that the therapist is actually responding neutrally and you are reading into his nonverbal responses; in therapy, we call this “projection.” Projection is when a person projects his or her feelings about themselves or a situation onto another person and views the other person as holding those feelings. In this case, for example, it could be that you feel judgment toward yourself and, as such, are seeing it in the therapist.

Having this dialogue can help you to resolve your internal conflict and make an informed decision going forward. By discussing your concerns with your therapist, you can choose your next step in a way that empowers you and not from a reactive space. That alone can provide a great healing experience.

Starting over with another therapist is always an option, but I recommend that as a last step instead of a first. Try starting by talking to your therapist and giving it some time to see how things change (or don’t change). If you don’t feel better about the relationship after a while, that might be the time to find another therapist to work with. The most important thing is that you are getting what you need from the therapeutic relationship, and only you can be the judge of that.

Best wishes in the journey,
Lisa

Lisa Vallejos
Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, specializes in existential psychology. Her primary focus is helping people to be more present in their lives, more engaged with their existence, and to face the world with courage. Lisa began her career in the mental health field working in residential treatment, community mental health centers, and with adjudicated individuals before moving into private practice. She is in the process of finishing a PhD as well as advanced training in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, and provides clinical training and supervision.
  • 11 comments
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  • LLoyd

    LLoyd

    April 16th, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    He or she is not judging you, just likely trying to get some background information on you so that they can actually help you.

  • Mckayla

    Mckayla

    April 16th, 2016 at 3:03 PM

    this is why you are there
    obsessive thoughts
    so maybe you are thinking this because this is what you have a problem with
    the therapist will help get you where you need to be over time
    and then hopefully you will see that you were all wrong about this

  • Michelle

    Michelle

    August 2nd, 2016 at 4:08 PM

    That is a very rude thing to say.

  • Sara

    Sara

    April 17th, 2016 at 7:41 PM

    I would add: when you tell your therapist how he is coming across to you, he should respond with an attitude of reassurance and interest. You should feel that he empathizes with your worry. A good therapist knows that it is gold when a client shares “negative” feelings about the therapist. That kind of vulnerability from a client is a golden opprtunity for the therapist to both build trust and further understand the cllient’s internal world. Also, given the power differential between the client and therapist, a good therapst immediately recognizes the vulnerability that is inherent in your concern and wants to alleviate your worry, otherwise the therapy is undermined, and the therapist knows hat (or ought to). If, however, your therapist responds with dismissiveness, surprise, or confusion (“Where did you get that odd idea?” “Really? I never thought of that” or “I’m honestly not sure what you mean”), then I believe the therapist is not skilled and you should consider working with someone else. Your concern is too basic for the therapist to miss a beat or drop the ball at all. You shouldnt have to explain much to him in this regard, he ought to understand immediately. A good therapist takes as normal that a client is afraid of judgement and he should already be clear in himself how to respond to clients in general, and with you in particular. Lastly, if your therapist handles your worry well – that us, you guys are able to talk reasonably about your concern – but you still feel judged, then talk about that too. It could be that you and he just aren’t a good fit to work together, and its not your fault or his. Maybe you need someone who, for example, is warmer or just not so neutral. Sometimes the lack of fit can be a rich part of the therapy – by working through how you guys don’t mesh, you build trust and learn and heal. That’s good. But sometimes, lack of fit is just too big or too distracting, and it never really stops getting in the way. That’s a harder decision for you, as the client, to make, because it is more complicated. Good luck and hope it turns put okay.

  • Piper

    Piper

    April 18th, 2016 at 3:22 PM

    Have you given any thought to the fact that maybe this is not the right therapeutic fit for you?

  • mason

    mason

    April 21st, 2016 at 11:55 AM

    I can understand how it could be hard for you to lay it all out there and not feel like you are being judged. I think that we have all felt that way at some point in time. But the bottom line is that this person did not get into this line of work to judge you for your actions or for your past. They got into this line of work to help people who emotionally need something more than what they have at this moment in time. Don’t let your irrational thoughts and feelings keep you from becoming the very best version of you.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    August 27th, 2018 at 12:40 PM

    I believe you are making assumptions. The smart thing to do would be to recognize they’re feeling judged and address it with the therapist. Then depending on how the therapist replies, decide whether this is the right fit. I’ve had very negative experiences with male therapists in the past, and it could in fact be judgement. It could also be projection, but that’s why openly discussing these feelings is important.

  • Ansley

    Ansley

    April 23rd, 2016 at 10:33 AM

    I agree, give it a little bit of time

  • Mike

    Mike

    May 10th, 2016 at 5:19 PM

    mason, sure, most therapists have a conscious intention to help, but I think you underestimate how easy it is for a therapist to know themselves less than completely. I won’t try to tell Judged Judy that her therapist is definitely judging her, but I also think it’s wrong to assume the blame lies with her, as you do. I have been in therapy with a very good therapist who has congruent body language, and I have also seen many other therapists over the years for various reasons. It is obvious that many therapists have residual unconscious stuff that affects how they present themselves. And of course! It is a long journey for any person to know themselves completely and rewire their self-judgment. Therapists aren’t perfect. The training doesn’t necessarily help them in their journey (depending). I know a clinical psychology Ph.D. student who is nearly finished with his training. He loves to help addicts in group therapy, but in talking to him I often accidentally hit his buttons and he gets angry, judgmental, and aggressive. I don’t judge him back, but it’s clear that he still has “buttons” and I think that will be a problem for him. I don’t think he is the exception, either.

  • Ann

    Ann

    April 9th, 2017 at 2:19 AM

    PLEASE don’t listen to the people who have responded here — they weren’t in the room with you so how dare they invalidate your experience. Trust your gut. Some therapists do judge their patients and act unprofessionally. It has happened to me. I would bring it up with your therapist and see how he handles it. If you continue to feel judged find someone better. Don’t waste your precious time.

  • Edy

    Edy

    November 7th, 2017 at 3:46 PM

    I totally agree. I’ve been there! Trust your feelings and that is the beginning of a great therapeutic relationship; knowing who and when you feel comfortable sharing your deepest emotions with. There is no compromise to be done. Even if there would be projection, that is not going to be learned by forcing you to do things you don’t want, which could scar you even more, especially if you have been victim of abuse in your past. Trust yourself darling! We tend to replicate our pattren even with therapists, so we can become aware of them. So if you usually surround yourself with people who judge you because you don’t have enough self affirmation, this pattern is going to reproduce in therapy sometimes. So you have to Be carefull, when your looking to find a new therapist, to think about what you want instead of what you don’t want… Much love, and good luck!

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